Sunday, November 15, 2015

Thankful for Books!

Did you know it's American Education Week?  November 16-20 presents all Americans with a wonderful opportunity to celebrate public education and honor individuals who are making a difference.

...Which got me thinking about books, of course.  Especially the ones I read in school that helped shape my soul and made me the lifelong reader I am today.

Books do so many things.  They engage, entertain, enthrall....But there is that special list everyone has - the ones that spoke directly to your adolescent spirit and stayed with you forever.

Here's my list of "literary soul-shapers."  What's yours?

Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger

The Outsiders – S.E. Hinton

Where the Sidewalk Ends – Shel Silverstein

Lord of the Flies – William Golding

To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

Their Eyes Were Watching God - Zora Neale Hurston

Romeo and Juliet – William Shakespeare

Assorted short stories and poems – Edgar Allan Poe

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain

“Books may well be the only true magic.” - Alice Hoffman

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Join Me at Killer Nashville!!

Join me next week at the Killer Nashville Writers Conference where I will be presenting "Thrills and Chills: Teaching Suspense Writing to Kids."

Sunday, November 1, 2015 
Omni Hotel in Nashville, TN

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

East Nashville Book Signing!

What's better than a good book and some ice cream???

I will be signing books this Saturday from 3-5 p.m. at Jeni's Ice Creams in East Nashville.  A fun and free event for families!

Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams 
1892 Eastland Avenue
Nashville, TN 37026

Friday, October 9, 2015

Students Acting Slothy? Teach Them Something Gothy!

The honeymoon is officially over, and it's about this time that students reveal subtle symptoms of slothy sluggishness.  Consequently, around late September/early October, I reach deep in my literacy bag of tricks for my go-to Gothic Literature unit.  Reading spine-tingling excerpts from DraculaFrankenstein, or Edgar Allan Poe are all but guaranteed to reignite enthusiasm from my students and possibly even the most reluctant of readers who have yet to reveal their literary chops.  (My hope is, in keeping with the theme, they are merely keeping me in suspense!)

That said, before plunging into the dark world of castles, chambers, and creepy cloisters, students require background information on Gothic Literature itself.  It is at this time we examine five basic elements of Gothic Literature, which I have classified into the following categories:

5 Elements of Gothic Literature

1) Elements of Superstition
  • Presence of ghosts, vampires, etc.
  • Unexplained sounds, sights, occurrences
  • Eerie atmosphere
  • Mysterious tone adds to building of tension

2) Emotions and Passions
  • Emotion surpasses rationality
  • Spells of hysteria, lust, and anxiety
  • Frequent crying and screaming
  • Detailed sensory description revealing characters’ passions
  • Characters experience terror and hysteria due to miasmic atmosphere

3) Broken Families
  • Families are often broken, incestuous, or murderous
  • Women subject to lustful wrongdoings 
  • Male characters are tyrannical
  • Women depicted as damsels in distress
  • Family unit confining, from which characters must escape

4) Eerie, mysterious setting
  • Claustrophobic, dark venues such as an old castle, mansion, or abbey
  • Places of fear and dread that portray the world as deteriorating
  • Desperate, dark ruined scenery
  • Surrounding area is dismal and rotting, often adding a haunting flavor of impending doom

5) Distinctive Characters
  • Characters are lonely, isolated, and oppressed
  • Presence of a tyrannical villain 
  • Action revolves around an unrequited love, or illicit love affair 
  • A vendetta or vengeance is a prominent theme

After my students are fully inducted into the world of Gothic Literature, it's time for them to write their own stories.  For inspiration, I offer some creepy music, telling them to listen at their own risk.  (Note to Blog Reader: Play at your own risk!)

Assignment: Write a Gothic Story...

The requirements are as follows:
  • Setting must be a large old house or graveyard
  • An unexplainable, scary event occurs in the house or graveyard 
  • Presence of the supernatural, such as a ghost, vampire, or werewolf
  • Unexplained phenomenon, such as doors slamming shut or lights turning on/off by themselves
  • Highly emotional characters who cry and scream
  • Implementation of Gothic symbols, such as a staircase, shadows, or a full moon.  

With a little inspiration from the darker works of the literary canon, students can't help but get their Goth on.  Whether you are a teacher, writer, or simply have a nagging nostalgia for Manic Panic, it's the perfect time to reach inside YOUR creepy bag of tricks and write your own Gothic tale.  

For more literary Goth inspiration, go to Kimberly's product store at:

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Celebrate the Freedom to Read

Did you know it's Banned Books Week?

According to the American Library Association, here is a listing of ten classic books that are subject to being banned in American schools.  How many have you read?

1. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

2. The Catcher in the Rye

3. To Kill a Mockingbird

4. Bridge to Terabithia

5. The Lord of the Flies

6. Of Mice and Men

7. The Color Purple

8. Harry Potter Series

9. Slaughterhouse Five

10. The Bluest Eye

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Happy International Literacy Day!!

Tuesday, September 8th is International Literacy Day!

International Literacy Day celebrates reading and writing around the globe, while raising awareness to those without access to books or education.  Show the world the importance of International Literacy Day by raising awareness or just picking up a book.

In honor of this special day, I am paying homage to the short story, one of my favorite genres to teach.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  * 

I love teaching the short story to my seventh graders.  We read YA classics in their literature anthology, like Langston Hughes’s “Thank You, M’am” and “Charles” by Shirley Jackson.  Of course the culminating highlight is Edgar Allan Poe’s riveting “The Tell Tale Heart.”  My students’ faces at the end of the story are priceless, and the impending class discussion goes something like this:

            “You mean the psycho guy buries the old dude alive?”
            “You mean the heart the he hears is his own?”
            “That’s tight, Ms. Dana!”
            “Sure is.  They don’t credit Edgar Allan Poe with Master of the Detective Story for nothing.  And did you know he married and fell in love with his thirteen year old cousin?”

Never a dull moment when Poe is on the agenda…

As a genre, my students prefer short stories over poetry and the novel.  They appreciate the brevity and are bowled over by the dramatic denouement present in so many.  What I love is their exposure to unique voices, profound characters, and universal themes – all in one class period!

If you have forgotten the thrill of the short story, are between novels, or just in a reading funk – check out or revisit these delightful tales:

“Roman Fever” – Edith Wharton
“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” – Ernest Hemingway
“The Necklace” – Guy de Maupassant
“Lamb to the Slaughter” – Roald Dahl
“The Dinner Party” – Mona Gardner
“The Tell-Tale Heart” – Edgar Allan Poe
“The Lottery” – Shirley Jackson
“The Monkey’s Paw” – W. W. Jacobs
“Bernice Bobs Her Hair” – F. Scott Fitzgerald
“The Gift of the Magi” – O. Henry


Sunday, August 30, 2015

A Parent's Guide for Surviving Middle School

Back to school is right around the corner.  Only this time your child is entering middle school – that rite of passage where they will undergo academic, social, and developmental challenges like never before.  While your eager middle schooler is raring to go, you may be secretly asking yourself if you’re truly ready for this auspicious journey.  The answer is Yes!  With today’s challenges, middle school may seem like the new high school, but below are six tips on how to make the transition seamless for both you and your child.  Get your brave on and learn how to survive (and thrive) as a parent of a middle schooler…

6 Steps to Swinging Into Middle School With Ease

Prepare:  Middle school isn’t exactly The Hunger Games – but you will fare much better if you know the rules.  Procure a copy of the school’s handbook and read it, ideally with your child.  Be familiar with the school’s policies.  For instance, does the school have a dress code?  Is there a general class supplies list?  What is the protocol for absences, medications, cell phone usage, etc.?  Make sure to complete all emergency card information with several contacts and up-to-date phone numbers for easy communication.    

Volunteer:  Join the PTA, PTO, or Booster Club.  Introduce yourself to the principal, counselor, and teachers letting them know you are available to assist wherever needed.
With school funding at a premium, some ways parents can help are volunteering in the computer lab, chaperoning field trips, selling concessions, leading a book club, or supervising dances.  If working with students one-on-one, be sure to check the district’s policy on parent volunteer fingerprinting and/or background checks.

Be a Study Buddy:  Check homework once a week or more if your child is struggling. Designate a study time and place free of distractions with adequate supplies, including pencils, paper, dictionary, and calculator.  Calendar long-term projects, and be available for assistance or hire a tutor if needed.  Many schools offer free after-the-bell tutoring programs or intervention services.  Encourage and teach time management and organization skills – before social networking, cell phone, and television time.

Communicate:  In elementary school, teachers call home if there is an academic issue, but in middle school the report card is often a parent’s first notification that their child is struggling.  To avoid Report Card Shock Syndrome and address problems early on, attend Back-to-School Night and all parent/teacher conferences.  Introduce yourself to your child’s teachers, provide email contact information, and let them know you want to work as a team.  In middle school, each teacher has their own way of posting homework, grading, and communicating with parents.  Ask for a copy of the class syllabus. Communication is key to your child’s success.

Get Social:  Your child’s circle of friends will most likely be at the top of their priority list. This is a good time to rally your own parental BFF’s, if nothing else for moral support.  In short, get to know the parents of your child’s friends.  Arrange a lunch to establish common norms for sleepovers, social networking, etc.  Discuss bullying and implementing appropriate safety precautions.  Talk over the school’s vision and what you can do as parents to make it the best place it can be.

Be a Cheerleader:  As your child enters middle school, he or she will tackle academic, social, and peer related issues.  There will be laughter and there will be tears.  Let your child know that you are their greatest fan and support.  Encourage their strengths and interests with extracurricular activities such as clubs, sports, band, and foreign language. When a problem arises, be there to help but also just to listen.  At the end of the day, sometimes a tween just needs a sympathetic ear.  Middle school is a challenge, but never let your child forget that you are their ultimate BFF and secret cheerleader.

This nostalgic read is both fun and informative in its perspective of middle school existence. The author's use of tweenie vernacular adds to character development and theme relevance.  - Readers Favorite

(Dana) knows her audience well, and has pitched this book to them perfectly, packing useful information into a fun, frothy read....Any sixth grade girl who's facing middle school as if it were a firing squad will find great comfort here.  Both entertaining and useful, How to Survive is a winner.  Starred Review - BlueInk Review 

Lucy and CeCee's guide to middle-school survival is a fast-paced, funny, and insightful book that will serve to clarify typical teen lingo and behavior for adults and give guidelines to tween and teenage kids who are having trouble navigating the middle-school milieu. - Clarion Reviews

But while the girls' teachings are often amusing, what really makes Dana's book exceptional are the girls themselves....Lucy and CeCee's target audience may consist solely of tweens, but this is a book that can educate readers of any age. - Kirkus Reviews

With plenty of humor and adventure, "Lucy and CeCee's How to Survive (and Thrive) in Middle School" is a strongly recommended addition to young adult fiction collections, not to be missed.  - Midwest Book Review